Monday, June 3, 2013

The back story.

This morning walking into Grady

I saw this Grady elder with a very unusual tattoo over his hand yesterday. It was this really elaborate yet super crude thing going over his knuckles and over his fingers from the thumb clear to the pinky. He was a chatty fellow and seemed like the type that wouldn't mind if I asked him about it. And even though Harry would totally tell me to "stay in my own lane" and not get in the man's business, you already know that I couldn't miss a chance to at least try to get the back story.

"That's quite a tattoo you have on your hand there." I could hear my miniature Harry in my ear groaning and saying, "Here. We. Go."

My patient smiled when I said that. Nearly every last one of his beige colored teeth showed when he did, too. The top and bottom rows, but not in a way that seemed forced. I immediately liked it.

"There's a story behind most tattoos," I went on.

He splayed his left hand out before us and chuckled. "Whew-wee. You sho' right about that."

And that answer was rather non-commital so I kind of felt bad for veering out of my lane. Harry was right. I mean, this had zero to do with why he was there. But lucky for me, that bad feeling was short-lived. This dear elder was delighted to share the journey to the ink on his hand.

"See, when I was a young man, I was with this lady and boy was she something. I'm talking 'bout a brick house!" He threw his head back on that part and I couldn't help but laugh right along with him. "She was fine as cat hair, you hear me?"

And I laughed again at that metaphor. "As cat hair, sir? Dang. That's fine."

"Whatchoo sayin'? I'm talking everything in all the right places. My nose was wide open!"

"What about hers? Did she like you, too?"

"Oh, now don't think I didn't used to pull 'em back in the day, now. I was smoov."


He rubbed his chin and nodded. "Smoooov." With a 'v.'

"So then what happened?"

"Well. We fell all in love and got married. And she had five letters in her name and I got 'em tattoed one letter on every one of my fingers. You know, since I ain't never been one for wearing no rings."

I narrowed my eyes. "Uh oh. Since I don't see the letters something must have gone wrong?"

He started cackling and slapping his knee with that inked hand. "Well she got to acting crazy and we end up splitting up."

"That must've been rough since she was a brick house and fine as cat hair."

"Naw. She the one that taught me that it take more than looks. You don't even see them curves when somebody get to stomping on yo' last nerve. Whew-wee. I had to get up outta that situation."

I leaned forward and rested my chin in my hand. This was entertaining. I waited for him to continue. Which is exactly what he did.

"So then 'bout three-fo' years later, I meet my wife now. We been together for more than thirty-some-odd years now."


"Well. She was a fine thang, too. I'm talking smart and good looking and real sassy-like. And I liked that about her. She wasn't worried 'bout no whole buncha mess. So we got on real good, me and her. Tha's when I figured out what real love was." He smiled the most tender smile when he said that.

"That's so sweet, sir."

"Mmmm hmmm. Can't even 'magine what it woulda been like had I stayed with that first one. Whew-wee!" He shook his head and seemed to genuinely shudder at the thought. "Yep. But me and my wife been two peas in a pod ever since. Sho' have."

"Wow." I kept waiting for him to get back to the tattoo but he didn't. He just sat there grinning that double decker grin and thinking about his better half. "So I think I can guess how that tattoo got there."

"Well, here's what's funny 'bout that. I was spending a lot of time with my wife and all but we wasn't together, you know, in the biblical sense or nothing like that. But then one day we got to fooling around and it started looking like we was gon' get into something. And I had been seeing her for some time then so I was real excited."

I squinted one eye and listened. "Uh, okay. Is this about to get R-rated?"

He raised his eyebrows and looked skyward. "Lawd, I wish. That woman looked down at my hand and seen that other woman's name on it and that was it. She said, 'You ain't touching me with that hand! Not with some other gal's name on it!'"

"Oh no!"

"Ha ha ha. . . and I called myself trying to keep on with the keep-on but jest with one hand."

That image made us both erupt in laughter. "I take it that she wasn't having it?"

"No way, no how."


"You best believe I went to one a my buddies that very next day. I said, 'You gon' have to put some kind of something over these letters. They got to be covered all the way up soon as possible."

"The next day?"

"Sho' did."

"That's hilarious."

"Yep. Been like this ev'ry since. Ugly ol' thang, ain't it?" He lifted his hand out to inspect the rudimentary work of his friend some several decades ago. "I ain't care what he did. It just had to be gone so I could be with my wife."

"That's actually kinda-sorta one of the sweetest things I've heard in a long time."

"You got any tattoos, doc?"

"Maybe." I winked after that cryptic response.

"I hope it ain't nobody name, is it?"

"Nope. No names."

"Phew. Tha's good. Seem like that jinx you puttin' somebody name on you."

"To each their own, I suppose."


I gathered my note cards and stood up to leave. "Good talking to you, sir." I chuckled and added while gesturing to his hand again, "Glad it worked out for you."

"Five kids and twelve grands so far. Can't work that kinda magic with jest one hand, can you?"

"Ha ha. . . I reckon you can't, sir."

I unmuted his television, waved goodbye and headed out of his room. As soon as I got on the other side of the door, one of the nurses saw the goofy grin plastered across my face.

"What you thinking about, Dr. Manning?"

I looked at her and told her the truth. "I'm thinking I love this place and I'm thinking I'm just glad to be here today. That's what I'm thinking."

Happy Sunday. Again.


  1. What a great story -- I'm glad you shared it with us. I never stop being thankful that there are doctors like you out there, in love with the lives of their patients!

  2. Love that phrase "Stay in your own lane"..going to write that down and stick on my bathroom mirrow for a while..great story..

  3. Haaaaa! He's a hoot!

    I've always disliked hospitals, they represent sickness and death. Amazingly, your stories show that there's life there too...PLENTY of life! Lovin Grady!


  4. This is amazing. I find that most patients don't mind telling us a little about their non-medical lives. Today I asked a patient about an African Traditional Religious symbol she was wearing, and she was so excited to tell me about it!
    Great to find your blog, thank you.

  5. I swear that I heard Harry say, "stay in your own lane" to me to me at church on Sunday when i was just about to correct someone else's child. I don't know BHE except from this blog, but you can tell him he stopped me from offering my opinion when it wasn't necessary to do so!

  6. From the deck of the Poop,

    I loved this story! I could actually see this guy as he told his story. I use the "fine as cat hair" line all the time. I know exactly what he means when he uses that phrase.


  7. I love the lanes you travel to and bring us stories like this one. Beautiful.

  8. Kim that was great! Love how she respected herself, he respected her for that and still wears the lingering mark of it. Awesome story!

  9. just found your blog recently! i was an EMT student who rode with Grady during all my clinicals... loved it so much. Get butterflies in my stomach every time i drive past even! living in africa now, but hoping and praying to be back at Grady soon. It makes me so happy to see how you love and care for your patients there... they are some of the best people Atlanta has to offer.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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